Groom Falconer--circa 1903 by Norman Dubie

Out walking along the river

I still saw the fever with her children

At supper in the coal light. Snow falling,

I climbed up through the wood

To the asylum to visit with Sister

In the locked ward. But hesitated

And went to the cottage to see the insomniac

Rich child who sits naked at the window:

Last night, in kerosene light, her back

Had a quality of milkglass. She curls

In the chair.

Her knees under chin, the room black--

The light at the window is all

Moon and snow. She is at it again:

With the nail of the little finger

She has flayed

The thumb of the same hand;

All but the little finger arthritic

With the procedure: the raw thumb

White like a boiled egg

In an upturned palm; the dead skin,

Bits of shell, not polished by hen straw.

Beyond the window there is a sudden

Convulsion of wind in the blue spruce,

Boughs dumping snow. I imagine

The brass makeweights that lift the other pan, Of this past summer, dust and pollen Rising around oxslaughter. A shudder

Passes through the child, taking

Her attention:

She cuts herself for the first time, a trickle

Of blood at the knuckle of the thumb

Like the single red thread

Through the lace hood and jesses

Of the medici falcons.

Her concentration broken, the hand

Loosens: one wing, one stone.

The sun is seeping over the snow.

She greets me with an acknowledgement

One reserves for a ghost.

From "Groom Falconer" (W.W. Norton: $17.95; 62 pp.) 1989 Norman Dubie. Born in Vermont in 1945, Dubie now lives in Tempe, Ariz., with his wife and their daughter and teaches at Arizona State University. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton.

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